Category Archives: fast FOOD

How to make brown rice — UPDATE

I’m always messing about with cooking — who knows, tweaking a bit might make it better, right?

This version makes rice that is fluffy and less starchy, which brings out the nutty flavor of the rice.

  • 1 cup of brown rice, rinsed and drained (removes excess starch)*
  • Bring 2.5 cups of water to a boil in a covered pot before adding the rice.*  Set a kitchen timer for five minutes and head off to open mail or tidy up.
  • Once the water boils, add the rice and give the pot a shake to distribute the rice evenly.*
  • Leave the lid almost closed, but with a little space to vent (or the rice will foam and create a mess)
  • Set the timer for 25 minutes and go live a little.
  • When the water is at the same level as the top of the rice, turn off the heat, close the lid and walk away for another 15 minutes.
  • Fluff and enjoy.  Makes about 3 cups.

*These are the only steps that differ from my original post, but oh, they make a difference.  In the first post, the rice goes from the bag to the pot of water before heating it all to a boil.  The result is more starchy, sticky rice (which is nice if you prefer it that way, or are making sushi).



What to eat at Starbucks

Starbucks Coffee Company

The official drink of The Voice, and my husband. They should have a platinum card for guys like him.

There’s a lot out there about what NOT to eat, but how about a post about what constitutes a good choice?

Starbucks has a lot of food and drink with under 400 calories, which is a good caloric neighborhood, beverage included, when you’re making a stop to fuel up.  If you’re watching your calories, it’s a good idea to choose a beverage very, very low in calories (iced tea with one packet of sugar or one pump of sugar, coffee with one sugar and a very small hit of cream) if you’re having a snack.  I would keep the snack at or below 200 calories; you need to save room for other healthful foods throughout the day.

I will assume you are looking for a drink and a nibble…

  • First, remember that whipped cream adds 45-100 calories depending on the size of the drink.  If you want whipped cream, the obvious choice is the smaller-sized drink (the short with whip is 45, give it up: a grande has 60 calories for the whip and is more realistic).
  • Each pump of syrup adds a teaspoon of sugar, which is about 20 calories.  Caramel drizzle adds 15 calories, and chocolate adds just 5.
  • Protein/fiber powder adds 30 calories and is entirely unnecessary (only adds one gram of fiber?!  Let’s have bakery instead!).

Beverages (200 calories or less):

  • Iced brewed coffee or tea.  Get it without the added syrup, or just one pump, and add milk or soy milk.  If you add the milk, and choose nonfat and Tall, it’s 80 calories.  If you’re feeling spartan, a plain iced tea or coffee contains 0 calories.
  • Continue reading

12 tips to save you money on groceries

My mother used to use one of these and I LOVED it as a kid.  Alas, it only goes to 10 or 20 bucks!

My mother used to use one of these at the grocery store and I LOVED it as a kid. Alas, it only goes to 10 or 20 bucks!

Lately I’ve been taking greater care to stay on a grocery budget, and the process has been quite enlightening.  Though I never went hog-wild buying cartloads of groceries, I often found myself buying things in advance that we didn’t yet need, or lots of one thing, like fruit, without thinking about how much bread and protein foods we would need later in the week.  In other words, I wasn’t planning well, despite having a list.

Here are some tips that helped me:

1. Keep track of the bill as you shop.  I kept my list and my cell phone together and entered each item in the phone’s calculator.  It’s a pain when the calculator accidentally zeros out on you once in a while, but after entering the prices of everything for a few weeks, I found that I can look at the list and very closely estimate the cost before I shop.  If I have 10 things on the list and I know they will come to about $30, I know how to estimate from there if I decide to add ice cream as an impulse purchase — or decide that this week, I really shouldn’t.

2. Know your prices.  I know what yogurt, tofu, beans, and even some chips cost at every market where we shop.  If there’s a sale on yogurt or canned beans, I’m all over it because that’s two items we eat nearly every day.  Be careful about package size — sometimes an item will cost the same amount at Trader Joe’s as it does at Costco, but at Costco you get twice as much.  Which is great ONLY if you will consume twice as much.  Here’s an example: Costco has 6 heads of conventionally grown baby Romaine lettuce for $2.99 — the price for three organic heads of baby Romaine at Trader Joe’s.  I like organic, but when money’s tight, sometimes we do without.  If you’re a family of four, it’s 100 degrees outside and you’re eating salad until November, this is awesome.  If you live alone and don’t have a herd of pet rabbits, it doesn’t work at all.

3. Keep track of what you spend.  Our weekly budget for groceries is $150 (covers 63 meals for we three).  I have an Excel sheet divided into four weeks and I enter each receipt to keep track of the week’s total (along with everything else we spend).  A simple memo pad where you can jot down the amount for each trip will help you keep track, or you can use the Evernote app.  But if you shop in more than one place you need to find somewhere to record what you spent at Ralph’s or Whole Foods before you hit Costco, Walmart or Target and blow the budget completely.

4. Pay cash.  Nothing forces you to stick to the budget more than seeing the greenbacks visibly leave your hand.

Continue reading

New Diet for 2013? Start with common sense.

December through January is the time for diet books, diet articles, and all form of marketing New Year’s resolutions vying for your attention.  With all the sweets around the office since the introduction of leftover Halloween candy, the potlucks and special meals with family and friends, the parties and the timeless winter pairing of hot chocolate and well, chocolate, they’re probably barking up the right tree.  No new diet books in March?  That’s because most of you will have given up on the gym membership (but are too lazy or forget to cancel the membership billing your credit card every month) and the stupid fad diet you were so excited about when the year began.  This is not pessimism; it’s statistical truth, and one I’d like you to avoid.

I’ve got nothing to sell you, but I’d like you to consider the following dietary advice:


  • Get rid of junk food/trigger foods in your house.  If you’re eating enough Cheetos to single-handedly support the company, it’s time for them to go (and by this, I mean any food you cannot stop eating once you start).  What about your family?  Both you and they can seek the food elsewhere (single-serving bag when out, yes, but in the house, NO.  See?).  
  • Understand that you are not a human garbage can.  It was a proud moment for me when I discovered that I could toss the extra shortbread cookies I didn’t want to be eating and wanted out of my house.  Or compost.  You don’t have to eat things because they’ve turned up, gotten left over, etc.  Toss them. Continue reading

How to make brown rice

Wait, you already know how to make rice?  Well then go away of you, sillypants.  You have other things to read about.  But for the rest of you, for whom rice that doesn’t have the word Minute in front of it, or boil-in-bag (NO!) behind it, allow me to explain the mystery.

Get yourself some nice, short grain brown rice from the bulk bin.  Make it organic if you can.  Why short grain?  Because it’s nice and starchy and will make you feel so warm and cozy inside.  It’s such a comfort food it’s a miracle that it is so good for you.  It’ll cost under $2 for a pound of the organic stuff from the bulk bin, and a pound of it will make a lot of rice (about six cups).

Generally, 1/3 cup of dry short grain brown rice will give you a cup of cooked rice, 1/2 cup will yield 1.5 cups, 1 cup will yield 3 cups; we could go on like this all day but now let’s make some rice.

Once you have worked out how much rice you would like, lob it into a pot.  Here is a picture of the rice all measured up in an actual measuring cup (highly recommended).

It’s a whole grain, but who cares? It’s DELICIOUS!

You’re really supposed to boil water first at this point — about 2 cups for every cup of rice — then add the rice.  You should/could also use a measuring cup made for liquids for the water. I’m too lazy/busy for that.

I add the rice, use the same (dry measuring) cup I used for the rice to add 2.5 cups of water for every cup of rice because I like mine a bit sticky. If you’re going for fluff, add 2 cups of water for every cup of rice. (If you’re making 1/3 cup of dry rice, fill the measuring cup with water 2.5 times and by the time you add it to the pot the cup is almost all the way clean.  I told you I was lazy).

The instructions always say to keep the lid on, but whenever I do, the pot overflows with foam.  You can avoid that by adding a teaspoon of oil if you like. Instead, I leave the lid ajar, balanced on my well-worn wooden spoon over low heat.  Set a kitchen time for about 25 minutes and walk away (not too far).

Check on the rice after the timer rings — the water should be a bit foamy and still hovering over the top of the rice (eventually you won’t need to do this; you will have rice-making confidence and you’ll know when to look for this last last bit with the leftover liquid). Set the timer for 15 minutes and run off to do something else you forgot to do (I’m projecting here, but really, could it just be me who forgets?).

I think I steamed the ol’ cell phone, but you get the picture: When you tilt the pan, there’s a little liquid left. Let it steam for 10 and it will disappear, leaving starchy goodness behind.

When the liquid is closing in on the bottom of the pan (it’s below the level of the rice but not wholly evaporated), turn the off the burner, put the lid on, reset the clock for another 10 minutes, look over the kid’s homework, the mail, or ponder the wonders of the Universe and then, pow, it’s go time: yummy rice.

Make extra and store in the fridge for a few days worth of delish.  Add tofu, beans, ricotta, whatevah.

For an updated version, in which I actually rinse the rice and boil the water first, click here.

Sugar, sugar (ah, honey, honey…)

My kid associates these with vacations, because that's when she gets them. Put down that phone, this isn't a case for Child Protective Services.

Though the information was apparently available in December, news stations with little else to say this morning were reporting that the Environmental Working Group released a report you can download from their web site about the sugar content of many breakfast cereals (with a list of the 10 worst, below).  They also recommend some of the best cereals including Cheerios, Kix, Mini-Wheats and really really good stuff like Nature’s Path Puffs and granolas free of GMOs and pesticides.

How to judge sugar content: For every 4 grams of sugar listed on a food label, there’s 1 teaspoon of sugar.  Froot Loops has 12 grams of sugar per 1 cup serving (heaven help you if you’re filling the bowl to the rim before adding milk).  That’s a tablespoon of sugar per cup (because 3 teaspoons = 1 tablespoon — good to know!).  Although food labels count fruit sugars under that Sugars heading, there’s no fruit lurking in Froot Loops or many of the other cereals packing loads of refined sugar.  That means you are relying on fortification (added vitamins and minerals) for any nutrition.  Also, if the first or second ingredient is sugar, cane syrup, glucose, high fructose corn syrup, concentrated pear juice or the like, you’re going to be flying after eating the stuff.

When you consume a large dose of sugar, your body’s pancreas has to make a lot of insulin.  Insulin tells the cells in your body to go ahead and get all that sugar out of your bloodstream and into cells. When there’s so much sugar floating around in the bloodstream at once, the cells take up loads of glucose; sometimes a little too much.  During the time it takes to release a little bit back into the blood stream, your brain registers hunger.  

This usually coincides with the moment you’ve completed about an hour’s work, the whole day still ahead of you, and Candy Dish lady has just arrived with a couple dozen donuts for that snoozer of a meeting.  There isn’t a bookie in Vegas that would give odds against a 10 am meetup between you and that chocolate covered sweetie.

But you’re not really hungry in the morning and that crappy kid cereal is all you can stomach, or you just aren’t very organized and eating well takes too much work.  Nah.

If you’re rich, you can stop at Starbucks and they’ll make you a little oatmeal in a cardboard cup to take along with your jet fuel.  Take the extras (nuts and dried fruit, each in a 100 calorie package —  pass on the giant package of brown sugar and instead hit the cinnamon canister near the creamer stuff on the way out).  Eat the extras LATER as a snack.  This way you spread out 300 calories and your insulin will work in neat little spurts that will be extra good for your soul.

What?  You aren’t rich?  Me either.  Damn.  Well, anyway, here’s another way: Buy yourself some plain, bulk oatmeal (quick cooking rolled oats — about a buck a pound even at Whole Foods), a little jar of cinnamon, and a few of those little boxes of milk if you like that sort of thing.  It’s cheaper to buy a carton and leave it in the fridge at work, but if you forget to bring one on a Monday, it’s nice to have those little cartons on standby.  If you can find a cheap set of measuring cups at the 99 cent store, bring that too.  

1/2 cup of oatmeal to 1 cup water or milk.  Microwave for 2 minutes, hit with cinnamon instead of sugar.  Add a few raisins — a tablespoon! — if you’re feeling jaunty (or in need of potassium).  Bring a banana?  Still soothing, goes well with coffee, but it’s good for ya.  Also, while people will steal your granola bars after hours, they generally don’t go after the raw oatmeal.

Did I just say you can never have sugary cereal?  I did not.  Don’t have it daily, and maybe just do a half cup of the stuff with a bit of fruit or plain yogurt into which you have lobbed a teaspoon of all-fruit jam.  Allow yourself some balance in life or you’ll find yourself on your knees in someone else’s cubicle hunting for the marshmallows in some poor schlub’s Lucky Charms after every one else has gone home.

Worst offenders:

Kellogg’s Honey Smacks 55.6%
Post Golden Crisp 51.9%
Kellogg’s Froot Loops Marshmallow 48.3%
Continue reading

Soup on the fly

healthysoupWhat happens when I have a child in the bath and I’m still thinking of what to whip up for dinner?  This is what happens: soup.  Our child loves soup, so on this night, when we were eating something she wouldn’t touch (Spanakopita; is she nuts? Her loss.) I whipped this up while she threw on some jammies.  Soup for one:

  • Broth (we buy a carton for $1.99 at Trader Joes – chicken or veggie — we use veggie.  The following night/day it can be used to make some really excellent rice when it’s the cooking water, or cooking water for vegetables.  Adds flavor without much salt.
  • Rotelle (spiral) pasta – always good to keep on hand.
  • baby carrots
  • frozen broccoli — just take out what you need
  • ditto the frozen, sweet corn
  • beans from a can, or leftover homemade, which was the case here

Microwave the broth with the rotelle pasta and carrots for 5 minutes.  Toss in the broccoli and corn, microwave for another 4 minutes.  Toss in the beans, 1 more minute.  Done!

Add a little bread and butter on the side and you’re good to go without having tons of soup left over.